Ford’s Ever-Smarter Robots Are Dashing Up the Meeting Line

In 1913, Henry Ford revolutionized car-making with the first shifting meeting line, an innovation that made piecing collectively new automobiles quicker and extra environment friendly. Some hundred years later, Ford is now utilizing synthetic intelligence to eke extra pace out of at this time’s manufacturing strains.

At a Ford Transmission Plant in Livonia, Michigan, the station the place robots assist assemble torque converters now features a system that makes use of AI to study from earlier makes an attempt the best way to wiggle the items into place most effectively. Inside a big security cage, robotic arms wheel round greedy round items of metallic, every in regards to the diameter of a dinner plate, from a conveyor and slot them collectively.

Ford makes use of expertise from a startup referred to as Symbio Robotics that appears on the previous few hundred makes an attempt to find out which approaches and motions appeared to work finest. A pc sitting simply outdoors the cage exhibits Symbio’s expertise sensing and controlling the arms. Toyota and Nissan are utilizing the identical tech to enhance the effectivity of their manufacturing strains.

At a Ford plant in Livonia, Michigan, robots assemble torque converters by wiggling parts into place, with some assist from machine studying.

Courtesy of Symbio

The expertise permits this a part of the meeting line to run 15 p.c quicker, a major enchancment in automotive manufacturing the place skinny revenue margins rely closely on manufacturing efficiencies.

“I personally suppose it will be one thing of the longer term,” says Lon Van Geloven, manufacturing supervisor on the Livonia plant. He says Ford plans to discover whether or not to make use of the expertise in different factories. Van Geloven says the expertise can be utilized anyplace it’s doable for a pc to study from feeling how issues match collectively. “There are many these purposes,” he says.

AI is usually considered as a disruptive and transformative expertise, however the Livonia torque setup illustrates how AI might creep into industrial processes in gradual and sometimes imperceptible methods.

Automotive manufacturing is already closely automated, however the robots that assist assemble, weld, and paint automobiles are basically highly effective, exact automatons that endlessly repeat the identical job however lack any skill to grasp or react to their environment.

Including extra automation is difficult. The roles that stay out of attain for machines embody duties like feeding versatile wiring by way of a automotive’s dashboard and physique. In 2018, Elon Musk blamed Tesla Mannequin 3 manufacturing delays on the choice to rely extra closely on automation in manufacturing.

Researchers and startups are exploring methods for AI to present robots extra capabilities, for instance enabling them to understand and grasp even unfamiliar objects shifting alongside conveyor belts. The Ford instance exhibits how present equipment can typically be improved by introducing easy sensing and studying capabilities.

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